I am a Black woman serving as a senator for a multimillion-dollar nonprofit with a constituency of more than 40,000 students. My mere presence is the product of decades-long advocacy from strong trailblazers before me. In my position, I carry the legacy of this advocacy, and I do not take this responsibility lightly.
I did not come to UC Berkeley thinking that I would eventually sit in the ASUC Senate chambers with a nameplate reading “Omotara Oloye.” For starters, I’m studying computer science with a minor in music, so a political position on my resume does not ensure a job when I begin my professional career. Yet, I understood that my interest in STEM was influenced by programs provided to me that were also the product of years of political advocacy. Inspired individuals in government are using bureaucratic structures to implement such initiatives to uplift youth.
In high school, Girls Inc. empowered me to develop an original outlook and showed me how I can use my voice to advocate for others like me. Another program is the student-run Black Recruitment and Retention Center, which single-handedly helped me decide to come to UC Berkeley on Cal Day 2017. Programs such as these are supported and funded by local, state and federal government initiatives and have inspired my work in the ASUC.
Previous ASUC officials laid the foundation for student-based advocacy. They made wellness more accessible by working with the Academic Senate to put Campus Wellness Resources on bCourses and lowering health care fees for low-income students with Berkeley SHIP. They increased financial aid for international students, successfully mobilized students to increase the minimum wage in Berkeley, stopped several tuition hikes, dethroned a UC regent accused of sexual misconduct and coordinated student delegations to meetings with campus, city, state and national leaders.
Now, the ASUC gives me the platform to advocate for my communities and for those of many backgrounds. Last spring, I attended Black Lobby Day hosted by the UC Student Association where I encouraged California-elected officials to pass and sponsor legislation supporting recruitment and retention centers, ban the consideration of former incarceration in applicant processes, eliminate for-profit detention centers and reform police accountability policies.
Over the last two years, I helped tackle the lack of diversity among faculty with the chancellor, vice chancellors, deans and department chairs. I co-hosted a campus climate hearing this month where campus administrators from the UC, CSU and California Community Colleges systems were held accountable for the promises made during the last five years. And a referendum I authored will be on the upcoming 2020 ASUC ballot, which if passed would continue our current transportation options of AC Transit and add a new Bear Transit line that runs in the opposite direction of the Perimeter Line. With my unique perspective, simply informing campus stakeholders about issues affecting students’ everyday lives can spark change across this campus and the UC system.
Throughout the ASUC, people are bringing about radical and tangible changes. The ASUC External Affairs Vice President’s office meets consistently with elected officials at the local, state and federal levels to advocate on issues that impact students, from higher education to immigration. For example, student organizers were consulted about a federal basic needs bill during the last EAVP-sponsored trip to Washington, D.C.
ASUC senators are advocating for the LGTBQ+ community; international students; Middle Eastern, Muslim, Sikh and South Asian students; and more. The policies that we as elected officials advocate for in the microcosm that is the ASUC influence local, state and federal governments.
The ASUC is among the largest autonomous student governments in the country, and elected officials hear us. Elected officials meet with us. Elected officials host events with us. Elected officials co-write legislation with us. Elected officials such as California State Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, and John Pérez, UC Board of Regents chair, once were us. The ASUC and the UCSA are impacting the local, state and federal political spheres. The work we produce today will be the legacy of tomorrow.
Omotara Oloye is a third-year studying computer science with a minor in music.